How should I pronounce derivative in the phrase “f ′ is a derivative of f ”?

Should I read it as [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] or [dɪˈrɪv.ɪ.tɪv]?

I have heard it as [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] in this context, but Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says that this word should be pronounced as [dɪˈrɪv.ɪ.tɪv] when used as a noun, and that the pronunciation [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] is only for the adjective derivative.

However, it doesn’t refer to a mathematical meaning of this word, just for general one.

  • I pronounce them the same regardless of context: [dɛ.'rɪv.ə.tɪv] or more often [də.'rɪv.ə.təv]. Hooray for Southern New England. – Jon Purdy Nov 14 '10 at 5:39
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    Fiktor, I believe native speakers would invariably say, "f' is the derivative of f", unless various kinds of derivatives were being discussed, which is a rare event. – user18036 Sep 1 '12 at 21:01
  • In the U.S., some dialects (mine, for example) have an /ɪ/ in many unstressed syllables where other dialects have an /ə/. Merriam-Webster usually uses a /ə/ in these cases (including this one). I would say either pronunciation is perfectly acceptable for both meanings in the U.S. I'd be surprised if somebody varied the pronunciation depending on the meaning, but it's not something I'd pay attention to so I certainly can't rule it out. – Peter Shor Sep 2 '12 at 1:07

I can’t speak for Britain, but in all of my five semesters of American calculus and calc-related math classes, I have only ever heard [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] in that context — or any context, now that I think about it.

I just googled derivative noun pronunciation and ended up at the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. It seems to agree that [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] is the only pronunciation.

I’m sure there has to be a British math geek around here somewhere who knows for certain. :)

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    2 months later: I’m a British math geek, with very RP pronunciation, and while self-observation is notoriously unreliable so I can’t say for certain, I would strongly agree with your answer. I’m not conscious of any distinction in my own speech, and I’ve never noticed it in anyone else’s. – PLL Jan 15 '11 at 5:13

I do not know why Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary distinguishes the two pronunciations, but I doubt that anyone uses [dɪˈrɪv.ə.tɪv] and [dɪˈrɪv.ɪ.tɪv] to mean different things. The difference between the two is an unstressed vowel, and I think that this difference is too small to convey different meanings when you speak at the normal speed.

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